seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
What do the new Catalans think about the independence
The year is 1978. I am in a village of 5000 people just 60 kilometres from
Barcelona. Franco has been dead for three years, and the inhabitants
are floundering about in the aftermath of his avowedly Catalanophobic
regime. There are organised independentists in the village, mainly
young people who have been more outraged than intimidated by years of
cultural and linguistic persecution. But their parents still remember the
1939 invasion of Franco’s forces, the simulated executions of suspected
Catalanists and other left-wingers, and the stifling political clampdown
of the post-war years. As a result, people are confused about the future.
Some shops have changed their signs from Spanish to Catalan, but
others refuse, believing that there will soon be another coup d’état
and they will have to switch them back again. Equally confused are the
residents who come from other parts of Spain: in the late 1960s, an entire
Andalusian village turned up in three buses – no one knew where they’d
sprung from and they had no idea where they’d arrived - and these exAndalusians are now upset by the fact that Catalan is suddenly being spoken everywhere around them, because
the authorities who refused to do anything about their disastrous poverty in southern Spain certainly had
no intention of teaching them Catalan or even mentioning its existence to them before or after they came to
Catalonia in search of work. The Catalans call them ‘immigrants’, a word which can’t yet be applied to ‘real’
(e.g. non-Spanish) immigrants, because there aren’t any.
Small home-grown Fascist groups – Catalans born and bred, some of them – cruise the streets with Spanish
flags drooping out of their windows. One of them has recently taken out the TV of a local bar with an automatic
pistol, when it broadcast a politician speaking in Catalan, a language I am trying to decide whether to learn
before I do Spanish. A local Dutch resident tells me I have to learn Spanish and Spanish only (though married
into a Catalan-speaking family, he thinks of Catalan as a bad joke and, indeed, makes bad jokes about it); but
everybody else suggests I learn Catalan first, while adding that - given the record of the Spanish government so
far - it will be a dead language by the year 2000. As I said, people are confused about the future.
In 2013, things have changed somewhat. The people who arrived in Catalonia from southern Spain in the
‘Sixties and early ‘Seventies are no longer called ‘immigrants’. They are now thought of and think of themselves
as simply Catalans. Their children are bilingual (indeed 40% of current Catalan speakers have learnt the
language at school, not from their parents). The Catalan language itself has survived and even thrived beyond
the year 2000, despite the sticks stuck in its spokes every now and then by central government (which has, over
the years, tried to ban Catalan TV, to stop linguistic immersion in Catalan schools etc.). And the percentage
of immigrants born outside Spain mainly in Morocco, Romania, various Latin American Countries, various
West African countries, Pakistan and China - has risen from zero to a hefty 15,7% of Catalonia’s 7.5 million
citizens. And – perhaps most importantly of all – the independence movement has ceased to be the preserve
of a handful of young people and has become a very broad church indeed, cutting across class, age, and – as
we shall see – ethnic barriers. At the last two major demonstrations (on 11/9/12 and 11/9/13) calling for the
right to vote for home rule, over 1.5 million people turned out. As a result, a popular consultation on this
issue (the Spanish government will not allow a referendum) will almost certainly be organised by the Catalan
government before the end of next year.
Where do the nearly 16% of Catalan citizens born outside Spain stand on this issue? Surveys show that a
majority of Africans are in favour of independence (an important percentage are also Catalan speakers), as are
many Pakistanis, many Eastern Europeans, and about half of the Latin American community (divided between
those who think of Spain as a beloved Mother Country, and those who see it as their historical oppressor). It
helps, perhaps, that the pro-secessionist parties have promised that on Independence Day, Catalan passports
will be issued to all those Catalan citizens who wish to have one, irrespective of their origins. Such generosity is
the result of a long-standing lack of interest on the part of Catalans in any kind of ethnic definition of their own
identity (which is based on language, culture and territoriality). Catalonia always having been a geographical
crossroads, not a Catalan alive today can scratch his or her family tree without a few immigrants dropping off
the branches, so it hardly makes sense to stigmatise more recent arrivals simply because they haven’t been
born within a three hour radius of Barcelona. I would even go as far as to say that the Catalanist movement, be
it federalist or secessionist, has become a post-nationalist or at least open-ended national phenomenon which
stands in remarkable and desirable contrast to the closed, quasi-racist nationalist movements emerging in
many established states within Europe today.
How odd, then, that of all the citizens living in Catalonia, those most reticent towards the independence
process are precisely those who come from the EU, many of whom have a disarming tendency to lambast all
things pro-Catalan on the grounds that they are, well, ‘nationalist’ (in the right-wing, xenophobic sense of the
word). Their attitude is similar if not identical to that of the Dutchman I met all those years ago (if anything,
the bad jokes they make about Catalan are even worse than his). Again, we cannot generalise, given that those
residents from EU countries who are not anti-Catalan tend to be even more gung-ho about independence than
many native Catalans themselves, because they cannot understand how the Catalans have put up with so much
prevarication, hostility, arrogance and mendaciousness from Madrid for so very long, without doing anything
serious about it. (I discovered this myself when defending the secessionist option in an English-language debate
in Figueres, a town near Girona; I expected the mainly English audience to boo me off the podium, and instead
found myself being applauded). For my part, I can more or less understand why the Catalans have taken such
a long time to react, given that I remember only too well the mixture of confusion, fear and uncertainty that
reigned in the country a mere three decades ago. Today, however, the uncertainty has become conviction; the
fear, defiance; and the confusion, cultural self-confidence. Not only that, but, happily, us ex-foreigners who live
here have been given to understand – and most of us have got the message - that whatever happens, we are all
in this together.
Photo: Helena Masó
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
I love you Spain
Coque Garcia - Asociación SÚMATE
It’s a fact that Catalonia is leaving. It’s got to a point where it is
impossible to continue with a regional system such as the one we
have now. Neither of the two ruling parties of the establishment,
the PP and PSOE, have come to believe in the fairytale of
autonomous regions. Their thinly disguised, homogeneous,
Castilian-Spanish nationalism generates a centrifugal force
that leaves us with only two choices: either evolution works in
reverse, or we move forward and go our own way.
No one seriously believes the myth of a ‘Plurinational Spain’
any longer. The supposedly ideal fit within the improvised
architecture created during the ‘exemplary’ transition period
is no longer taken seriously. Frankly it is pathetic, and even
insulting that we now have calls for federalism (or the ‘Third
Way’ and similar confabulations) in an attempt to deceive and
to delay the inevitable. Even those who employ such rhetoric
don’t actually believe in it. And no one could accuse Catalonia
of not having tried hard enough for over 100 years.
Spain has essentially tried to ignore the situation. As far as they are concerned there was no problem, nothing to
worry about. It was just Catalans playing the role of the ‘victim’. They thought we would end up settling for the
leftovers, with certain people in Catalonia taking advantage of the situation for their own ends. Nevertheless,
when they’ve been unable to ignore us any longer they’ve opted for the fear option.
Such people have predicted the coming of the ten biblical plagues, with the worst misfortunes and curses set
to befall the Catalans if we insist on doing something as subversive and dangerous as putting a voting slip
in a ballot box. They have threatened to leave us out of the EU, like Iceland, Norway and Switzerland… and
out of the universe itself if they could, forever and ever. They would also exclude us from the euro, where we
wouldn’t even have the power to refuse to empty our pockets and continue using it like they do in Andorra and
Montenegro… even though Spain does not have a seat on the ECB’s Executive Board. They have also come to
threaten us with the fact that we will be responsible for our share of the national debt, as if staying in Spain
meant we wouldn’t have to pay for it any more. Not to mention the cost involved in having state apparatus:
paying for security forces, intelligence services, the diplomatic corps, tax inspectors and judges… as if we
weren’t doing so right now, in addition to paying for the royal family, repairing submarines that don’t float,
ceremonial swords and the ambassador to Riyadh’s swimming pool. And as for pensions; they’ve threatened
us here too, even going as far as visiting nursing homes to scare the elderly by telling them that Spain, which
loves us so much, won’t pay for our pensions. Blatantly lying, given that in a distribution system like our own,
pensions are not paid by ‘Spain’ out of what has been accumulated, but rather by the contributions of those
currently in work. In any case, Spain would be able to pay precious little when it has blown its Reserve Fund,
raiding its piggy bank to buy its own debt…
So, in the absence of rational arguments to deter us from using those dangerous envelopes (containing ballot
papers), they will doubtlessly resort to emotional arguments. They will appeal to our feelings, they will try to
divide society, they will use language to break our cohesion. In fact they’ve already started. They will make up
terrible calamities that will befall we Spanish speakers following independence, as if Catalan society had not
already demonstrated how open, inclusive and plural it is. They will also tell us they love us, promise us they’ll
change, that we should talk about it, keep on trying… as if they’d been paying us much attention up to now.
Catalonia and Spain have different political objectives. One is no better or worse than the other, just different…
and incompatible. If Catalonia had to stay in Spain it would have to give up being what it is; and the Spain
that Catalonia dreams (dreamt) about is impossible. Spain has made this abundantly clear on the numerous
occasions that we in Catalonia have made any attempt at reconciliation. At this point, the best thing for both
parties is an amicable divorce rather than the litany of criticisms and continual abuse. It is extremely selfish to
try to hold onto someone who wants to leave and to become obsessed with trying to change them. This is not
Spain has already made clear it doesn’t want to change and Catalonia has shown it wants to follow its own
path. If the Spanish truly love Catalonia, they should let them be free. And if the Catalans truly love Spain, they
should love it just as it is, without trying to make it change against its will. Spain is not losing, it’s gaining the
opportunity to build a relationship with a neighbouring country with which it has many things in common, out
of respect and mutual interests. It will also gain the chance to put an end to everything that has been destroyed,
by undertaking the reforms that are long overdue... if the Spanish wish to do so.
I love Spain. My parents were born there, my language is Spanish, Spain is home to remarkable cultural wealth...
And I’m proud of it, because it is part of me and I’m not going to give it up and no one will force me to do so.
But it’s time that Spain and Catalonia went their separate ways.
And so, with all my love from Catalonia: Goodbye, Spain.
First published in Asociación SÚMATE.
Photo: Coque Garcia (Asociación SÚMATE).
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
Life on the receiving end
Back in the Sixties – Franco’s time, when use of the
Catalan language was still largely illegal outside
the privacy of home - there was an incident on
the Spanish Cadena SER radio station that’s still
remembered in Catalonia today.The best-known
voice of the period, a presenter called Bobby
Deglané – who usually came on to his guests,
according to author Quim Monzó, like a ‘knight in
shining syrup’ - invited a Catalan comedienne, Mary
Santpere, also well-known throughout Spain, onto
his weekend show. Straight out, he came out with:
‘Mary, is it true that you Catalans, rather than talk,
simply bark, just like dogs?’. To which Santpere,
after a moment of being taken aback, replied, ‘I
wouldn’t say that, but in Catalonia, as it happens,
Bobby is a very typical dog’s name’.
Those of us who came to live in post-Franco Catalonia found and still find it inexplicable that in the rest of
Spain anti-Catalan jibes of the bobbydeglanesque type, or worse, are a lot more common than anyone might
reasonably expect after 30 years of democracy. The stories come trickling in year after democratic year from
over the Catalan border, stories of Catalans going out into monolingual Spain, being identified as such, and
then being looked at askance, or short-changed, or insulted on the street, and so on and so forth. For example,
one television cameraman I knew told me how in 2004 he and his crew had sat down in a restaurant in Burgos
only to be told by the manager, and I quote: ‘’Si quereis hablar en catalán, mejor que lo haceis en otro sitio’.
My favourite story of this type, however, is the one told on public radio a couple of years ago, by the Catalanlanguage writer Empar Moliner. No sooner was she speeding out of Madrid airport in a taxi to the city centre,
than her mobile rang. A friendfrom Barcelona. She answered. Started chatting. In Catalan. Within seconds, the
driver had turned to remonstrate: ‘Here in Spain, we speak Spanish!’. Moliner leaned forward and lied: ‘Hey,
I’m speaking Italian, eh?, not Catalan’. Thereply: ‘Oh, that’s OK then. No pasa nada.’
Personally, I find it incomprehensible that the Catalans who’ve had such experiences never seem to be especially
affected by them. If someone were to tell me to stop speaking English to another English speaker, in anycontext
whatsoever, I would get very cross.
It’s true that all these anecdotes, plentiful though they may be, are just that: anecdotes, mere episodes, isolated
cases of regional sparring of a kind in many places around the world. Perhaps, it did on occasion occur to me,
the Catalans were right, even, to treat such incidents as teacup-sized storms.
Then, in the year 2006 – when the Catalan parliament was putting together the third Statute of Catalan
Autonomy - I came across two incidents which seemed to me to be indicative of a great deal more than mere
interregional bitching. On both occasions I was on the breakfast show of the private Catalan-language radio
station RAC 1; musician Miqui Puig and I hadwhat must have been one of the easiest paid jobs in the western
hemisphere: for half an hour all we had to do was talk about things we’d liked and dislikedover the past week.
Occasionally, if the pressure of this got too much for us, the presenter would open the lines and let the hoipolloi mention a few likes and dislikes of their own. One Friday, we got a call from a Barcelona taxi driver; the
previous weekend he had upgraded his taxi to a Mercedes, and decided tocelebrate by going for a long spin to
the capital of Aragon, Saragossa, where he could show off this brand new tool of his trade – freshly painted, of
course, in the instantly recognisable black and yellow of all Barcelonan cabs- to some Aragonese friends of his.
No sooner had he stopped at the first set of Saragossan traffic lights than the drivers to right and left of
him began to wind down their windows and treat him to a mixture of forthright verbal abuse and earnest
recommendations to leave town which were clearly provoked by the Catalan nature of his car. He made it to his
friends’ place, only for them to ask him please not to leave his taxi parked in the street, where they could not
guarantee it remaining in one piece for long. So he drove it to a car park, on entering which he was accosted by
a group of angry young men who threatened to do his windows in, no matter where he parked. At this point he
gave up, and, abandoning Saragossa, headed post-haste for the safety of the Catalan border.
The following Friday, in the same radio studio, we got another similar call, this time from a town near Barcelona
– Mataró, if I remember rightly - from the mother of a sixteen year old girl who had just been on aschool trip
to Madrid to see the Prado gallery. When this girl had been chatting to her school friends in Catalan on the
Madrid metro, an elderly man sitting opposite had told her to speak in Spanish. She refused, saying she would
speak Spanish to him but not to her friends. The old gent’s reply was to the effect that if he were a younger man
he would and I quote ‘Smash her face in’. Upon which a younger man who happened to have followed all this
stood up and offered to do just that. The mother of this girl went on to tell us how she and the mothers of all the
other girls going on the trip had given their daughters highly specific instructions before leaving for Madrid:
they were not to wear any Catalan or Barcelona Football Club insignia, and if asked aboutwhat they thought about any
political issue related to Catalonia, were to keep mum or change the subject or make themselves scarce. All these mothers
considered these precautions absolutely necessary.
Now, it might look as if, once again, we’re simply piling isolated anecdote upon isolated anecdote and trying to draw some
overall conclusion from them. But in these cases, I think it’s the small print thatcounts, so to speak, in the sense that what
makes these two stories significant is that both the Aragonese friends of the Barcelona taxi driver and the mothers of the
teenagers off to their school trip took for granted that there was – in Saragossa and Madrid respectively – a general (not
an anecdotal or residual) antipathy towards Catalan people that might turn ugly, possibly with violent consequences.
That struck me as being indicative of a more widespread phenomenon that was both unpleasant and – given certain
circumstances – potentially explosive.
As it happened, when reading about anti-Catalan prejudice inSpain later on, I came across this observation by the Spanish
historian José Antonio Maravall: ‘to speak of something Catalan or to speak in Catalan, in a café in Madrid or any other
major Spanish city, exposes one automatically to a hostile reaction’. He was writing not about Spain in 2006, but about
Spain in 1931. What was happening in 1931? The Catalans were negotiating their firstStatute of Autonomy with central
government. What were they doing in 2006, when the taxi-driver and the teenage girl’s mother phone in their stories of
Catalanbaiting? As mentioned, they were negotiating their third Statute of Autonomy. So, I thought, is this the key to it
all? Is it just the Catalan Statues of Autonomy that foment anti-Catalan prejudice in Spain at given moments in time? Or
did it exist before? Is it manifested even when there is no Statute of Autonomy on the horizon?
In Spain, any controversy of any type involving Catalonia – or the Basque Country, for that matter – is an open invitation
to all kinds of media and political manipulation of the key terminology. You can barely touch the subject without setting
off carefully placed semantic booby traps. So before moving on, we’d like to clarify the three key terms.
Firstly, Catalonia. ‘Catalonia’, in this talk, refers only to the Principality of Catalonia, capital Barcelona, and doesn’t
include the other Catalan-speaking areas with which it still maintains cultural connections, namely Valencia, the Balearic
Islands, part of southern Aragon, French Catalonia, the town of Alguer or Alguero in Sardinia, the state of Andorra and a
toenail sized sliver of northern Murcia. We’re not going to talk about any of these areas.
Secondly, the Catalans. ‘The Catalans’ refers here to all registered residents of Catalonia, irrespective of where they come
from, where they parents come from, what colour their skin is and what language they prefer to speak.
Finally, monolingual Spain. ‘Monolingual Spain’ is used here to indicate those areas of Spanish territory in which Castilian
aka Spanish is the only official language, and which are home to about 25 million people, out of a total Spanish population
of just over 40 million. The remaining 15 million live in areas where Basque, Galician and Catalan are co-official languages
together with Spanish..
Ok, now we’ve got all that cleared up, we can go on.
Anyone living in Catalonia today can hardly fail to notice after a while either long or short, that the Catalans’ worldview
– that is to say, their perception of where they stand and how they came to stand there - is remarkably different from
that of the inhabitants of monolingual Spain. Whereas the latter’s history books, for example, put Castile and Castilian
hegemony at the centre of their story, those of the Catalans relate Catalonia’s slow but consistent fall from historical grace.
Because this Catalan worldview tends to be littleknown and because it’s impossible to even begin to understand the
existence of anti-Catalan prejudice in Spain without it, there follows a description, as brief as I can make it, of how most
reasonably well-informed Catalans view their historical record.
For them, the famous reconquest of the peninsula from the Moors starting around the 10th century, was achieved not only
by the Galaico-Portuguese fighting their way down the western edge and the Castilians doing the same down the centre
swathe; but also by the Catalan counts and later the Catalan count-kings who gradually removed the north-eastern strip
of the peninsula from Arab and Berber control until by 1245 they had claimed not only Tarragona and Lleida but also
Valencia and the Balearic Islands for Christendom and themselves.
Successive Catalan count-kings used this mainly coastal territory as a springboard to create a fourteenth century commercial
empire, with direct military control over Sardinia, Sicily, Naples, a chunk of Anatolia, much of Greece, including Athens:
the Catalan Count-King Peter III, thrilled to have the Parthenon in his power, ordered a dozen crossbowmen toprotect it
from thieves in 1380.
All this swashbuckling went hand in hand with the emergence of some of the most precocious protodemocratic legislation
inEurope, always according to the Catalan view of things. The body of civil law known as the Usatges, which began to
emerge in the 12th century, paved the way for the Corts Catalanes, a kind of precocious parliament in which nobles, clergy
and even the artisan class, the proto-bourgeoisie, so to speak, wereincluded. (Its historical successor, the English Magna
Carta, did not appear on the European scene until a century later). This Catalan protodemocracy eventually led to one of
the main points of discord between the Castilians and the Catalans: the king of the latter had to be approved by parliament
before he could take the throne. The king of the Castilians, their royal tradition being absolutist, did not.
If our imaginary Catalan is a little better-informed than usual, he would at this point delight in quoting us the French
historian Pierre Vilar’s famous analysis of Catalonia at this point in her history: ‘perhaps, between 1250 and 1350,
the Catalan Principality is the one country in Europe about which it would less inaccurate, less risky, to describe in
apparentlyanachronistic terms as a nationstate.
If, to drive the point home, the Catalans wanted to be a bitbolshie, they would casually point out now that at the time
referred to by Pierre Vilar, the flag that represented Catalonia is the very same one thatrepresents it still. Whereas the
Spanish flag, they would enjoy adding, wasinvented by decree on May the 28th of 1785.
After this, even our cocky Catalans would have to admit, it’s downhill all the way. To begin with, a dynastic alliance in
1469 between Isabel, Queen of Castile, and Ferdinand II of Aragon, Valencia and Barcelona did not unite Spain – as the
old Spanish nationalistic myth has it – given that the Catalan-Aragonese Kingdom retained its legal system, tax system,
parliamentary structure, currency, customs tariffs on the Castilianborder, and so on. But there is no doubt that from this
moment on, power begins slowly to shift from Barcelona to the centre of the peninsula. In 1518, Catalan merchants were
forbidden to trade with the recently-discovered Americas. In1652, after a decade-long popular uprising against Castilian
interference in its affairs – similar to parliamentarian/absolutist conflicts happening all over Europe, not least in England
- Catalonia still managed to conserve most of its legal independence, but lost an important chunk of territory – Perpignan
included – to their erstwhile allies, the French.
This is as nothing, however, to what happened in 1714, the key date in modern Catalan history, when the country lost its
war against the Bourbon dynasty and was incorporated by force of arms into a still fledgling Spanish state (remember,
which didn’t yet have its own flag). What it did have was one irritated absolutist monarch, Phillip V, who used his Right of
Conquest to justify his subsequent elimination of Catalan financial independence, ofmost Catalan law – but NOT Catalan
civil law, something worth bearing in mind for later - of Catalan currency, all Catalan institutions, its eight universities
included, the long-cherished right of the Catalan parliament to approve its King, and the use of the Catalan language in
Not only this, but an entire neighbourhood of Barcelona was razed to the ground to make room for a huge barracks to be
installed in what is now the Parc de la Ciutadella, partly to house some of the 30,000 Castiliantroops billeted in Catalonia
to keep the place in its place.
Even the English – at that time, on paper at least, military allies of the Catalans – were aware that an independent country
was being juggernauted. In 1714, precisely, a little book appeared in London called ‘The Case Of The Catalans Considered’,
whose author stated : ‘It should be pointed out that the Principality of Catalonia, before being yoked to the Spanish
crown,...has always been governed by its own laws, independent from any other kingdom. Until now, those laws have
remained intact and the slightest attempt to tamper with them has resulted in the people rising up in arms’.
Later, in the 19th century there was a resurgence of Catalanculture which in its turn, together with other circumstances,
led to the appearance of political Catalanism which eventually led to the recovery – after its suppression 218 years earlier,
of the main Catalan institution of government, the Generalitat – together with a Statute of Autonomy (1932) which
restored a small amount of the home rule lost in 1714. Both Generalitat and Statute were suppressed yet again seven years
later by the well-known fascist dictator, Francisco Franco Bahamonde, who ruled from 1939 to 1975.
Four years after Franco’s demise, in 1979, a new Statute of Autonomy was negotiated under the watchful eyes of the
military and then a third one, designed to improve on the circumstantial shortcomings of the second, was approved
almost unanimously by the Catalan Parliament in 2006 but was impugned by the conservative Partido Popular and
Spain’s (socialist) ombudsman and so is currently being held on ice in the Spanish Constitutional Court.
There, in an outsize nutshell, we have the Catalan version of history. Whether people find it to their taste or not, is not
really here nor there. The fact is, as we said, that is how most reasonably well-informed Catalans see their collective past.
From the Castilian point of view, the military seizure of the Principality of Catalonia in 1714, and the dozens of measures
that were later taken to bring Catalonia into line with the laws and language of Castile, simply form part of what was then
thought of as a typical nation-building process. It was and is, always from a Castilian point of view, absolutely normal,
absolutely taken for granted.
What the Catalans of the time, 1714, regretted most was the loss of their legal system and institutions, now abolished at
one stroke. From their point of view, this constituted a complete loss of political independence ,was not legitimate and
never would be legitimate. Graffiti that appeared on thestreets of Barcelona soon after the 1714 defeat read: ‘All Catalonia
is nownothing but a jailhouse’. For many Catalans today, what they regard as their forced membership of the CastilianSpanish national project is still not legitimate.
It is during this post-1714 period, and especially over the 19th century that modern anti-Catalan prejudice as we live it
today begins to emerge.
Take the language, for example. Although a preliminary report by a Castilian functionary called Patiño affirmed soon after
1714 that the Catalans, and Iquote: ‘spoke and wrote only in Catalan, without making much use of Spanish’, the new laws
imposed by the Castilian regime insisted that Spanish or Latin were to be used in the courts, instead of Catalan, as had
been the custom up until then. At the same tie guidelines were laid out for the prohibition of Catalan in school teaching,
book-publishing and preaching, the latter being an extremely widespread activity back then, when most people believed
in God. It should be said that these decrees proved extremely difficult to implement at first.
Which is probably why in the 1800s, measures designed to limit the use of Catalan multiplied, reaching a fever pitch
towards the end of that century. In 1881, any legal or commercial document written in Catalan – from a testament to
a tram ticket - was decreed null and void. The ban on Catalan in the courts was made stricter, often with disastrous
consequences for monolingual plaintiffs: in the Spanish parliament in 1905, the MP for Tarragona Julià Nougués brought
up the case of a Catalan who had been wrongfully jailed for 14 years for answering ‘yes’ instead of ‘no’ to a Castilian judge’s
question that he hadn’t understood correctly. In 1896, it was forbidden to speak in Catalan at any forms of public meeting,
indoors or outdoors. In the same year, the use of Catalan was banned on the telephone and in telegrams. In 1900, it was
banned in theatres. Later, under the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, which lasted seven years starting in 1923,
inspectors were sent into Catalonia to sack any schoolteacher on the spot who was found speaking to his pupils in Catalan.
All posters and signs in public buildings of any kind had to be in Spanish only. The night watchmen were obliged to call
out the time in Spanish instead of Catalan. By this time, 1929, there were already some 150 laws designed to increase or
enforce the use of Castilian in Catalonia. And we haven’t even got within spitting distance of General Franco yet.
The Catalans’ insistence on using their own language despite all of this – in 1924, the architect Antoni Gaudí once famously
said to a policeman who, infuriated by being addressed in Catalan by this venerable old gentleman, asked him if could
speak Spanish: ‘Of course I can! I just don’t feel like it!’ he replied, before being taken in for questioning) – this insistence,
as I say, gave rise in monolingual Spain to the idea – still widely prevalent - that the Catalans not only use their language
as a sign of disrespect to Spanish-speakers and by extension to the Spanish nation as a whole, but also to eliminate the use
of Castilian inside Catalonia itself. As early as 1916, aCastilian deputy in the Spanish parliament, Eduardo Ortega y Gasset
– brother of the better-known José - declared: ‘It is not a question of persecuting Catalan in Catalonia, but of avoiding
the persecution of Spanish there.’ At the time, the immense majority of the Catalan population were either monolingual
Catalan speakers or had a highly imperfect knowledge of Spanish.
Today, curiously enough, although now all Catalans can speakSpanish, from time to time, grouplets of Spanish politicians
and intellectuals still insist on insisting that the Spanish language is being persecuted in Catalonia. A ‘Manifiesto por la
lengua común’ drawn up as recently as June of this year, repeated the accusation. Although it claimed an almost sexually
intimate knowledge of the linguistic status quo in Catalonia, only three of the seventeen signatories actually live there,
the majority being based in monolingual Spain, with one other living in the Basque Country and yet another, in London.
So, here we have one root cause of anti-Catalan prejudice: not the language in itself, but the insistence of large numbers
of Catalans on using it as the default language in Catalonia. Despite having been told forsuch a long time that they really
should not do this.
In the London School of Economics the last thing I wanted totalk about was economics – a subject I understand even less
than, say, bosonic string theory – but in order to understand the crucial second source of antipathy towards Catalonia
in Spain, the delicate subject of money has to be broached. After all, the stereotypical Catalan – as seen by prejudiced
monolingual Spaniards, not all, of course - not only barks like a dog, but is mean, tight-fisted, selfish, miserly, moneygrabbing and even - and this accusation dates from a 1907 article in El Mundo newspaper by the novelist Pío Baroja – a
Jew. (‘Everything in Catalonia’ – he wrote – ‘has a markedly Semitic character’). This last summer, a hundred and one
years later, a Catalan friend of mine resident in London overheard some Spanish people in the audience at a lecture in the
local Cervantes Institute describing the Catalans as ‘a bunch of Jews’.
The supposed stinginess of the Catalans has been reflected in a host of popular jokes, the more elaborate of which – as is
also the case with Jewish humour – are told by the butts of the jokes themselves. The ones of monolingual Spanish origin
tend to be both shorter and blunter. The shortest one I know, overheard personally, goes: [joke about the dead Catalan,
shownwith thumb and finger].
As mentioned, Catalan civil law was allowed to remain in force for several decades after the military defeat of 1714.
Catalan civil law both favoured and fomented the existing tendency in Catalonia towards smallholdings, commerce and
the beginnings of capitalist investment. When, in 1778, the Catalans were finally allowed to trade with the Americas,
they did so with a vengeance, dealing primarily in hard liquor – Catalan ‘aiguardent’ was a major local product – sugar,
coffee and, last but by no means least, slaves. The wealth that returning Catalans injected into their economy paved
the way for the first full-scale industrial revolution on the Mediterranean coastline. By the early 19th century, this was
already causing friction between Catalonia, with its capitalist economy based mainly on textile products, and central
and southern Spain, with a mainly agrarian economy, the profits of which accrued to a small number of landowners
with considerable influence in Madrid, in bothcourt and parliament. The Catalan business lobbies pressured the central
government for protectionist laws on the British model, designed to create an internal Spanish market. The landowners,
whose agricultural products already had what amounted to a protected market, were opposed to this protectionism, even
though it would have favoured manufacturers anywhere in Spain, not just in Catalonia.
This economic conflict – between the propertyowning classes of Catalonia and monolingual Spain respectively – gave
rise to a surprising twist of fact: the Catalans started to be blamed for living off the fat of Castile and Andalusia. Even
though economic surveys made in the early 20th century showed clearly that Catalonia, with some 10% of the population,
was contributing 25% of the overall Spanish budget while getting just 6% back in public investment. Even now – with an
average yearly deficit of 9% - Catalonia is one of the most highly taxed and underfunded regions in Europe.
Despite all this, the suspicion that the Catalans are not only rolling in it, but also withholding financial support from other
regions started to becomemore and more widespread. In 1915, when the Catalans asked for money for local infrastructures,
the then much-read Madrid newspaper, El Imparcial, described the Catalan authorities as ‘financial parasites who feed
themselves a the expenses of the state’. 86 years later, in 2001, when the Catalan government was pushing for a transfer
of 15% of income tax to Catalan public funds, the then president of Extremadura, Juan Carlos Rodríguez Ibarra, made
headlineswith his comment: ‘Just because the Catalans speak two tongues, doesn’t mean they need to eat twice as much
as everyone else’. To this day, the myth persists that Catalonia is getting more money than it should from Madrid and that
any attempt to actually get more money than it does is a sign of greed.
So: sooner or later, this combination of legalised attacks against the Catalan language together with such heavy taxation,
was going to get the Catalans’ goat. Their first political reactions, however, were nothing if not moderate. Anyone today
who ploughs his way through the foundational texts of Catalanism, most of which date from the late 19th century, might
be surprised to find that none of them show any interest in independence. The republican theorist Valentí Almirall, for
example, writing in 1886, opted for a federal status within aliberal Spain. The bishop Torras i Bages, in his monumentally
mindnumbing and highly selective compendium of Catalan history and culture, ‘La tradició catalana’ – inflicted on
readers in 1892 – defends a mustily conservative Catalan Region smelling of old cassocks. On the other hand, Enric Prat
de la Riba’s more popular treatise ‘La nacionalitat catalana’ (1906) defended what Catalonia currently has: a partially
autonomous government overseen by the Spanish state.
And yet right from the word go, Spanish media and politicians treated all Catalanists as separatists. In 1901, the liberal
deputy Luis deArmiñan bought up the question in parliament: ‘Could Poland possibly be theCatalanists’ role model?’,
the Poles being famous at the time for their struggle for independence. To this day, the main insult word for a Catalan is
‘polaco’ – Pole – and should anyone be in doubt, they can consult the first or second edition of the Collins Master SpanishEnglish dictionary, where the second definition of ‘polaco’ is given as ‘Catalan’ brackets ‘perjorative’.
Nowhere in monolingual Spain did this perceived separatism ring alarm bellsmore violently than in the Spanish military
whose paranoia about Catalonia meant that, as historian Jaume Vicens i Vives pointed out, ‘martial law wasimposed in
Catalonia for 60 of the 86 years running from 1814 to 1900’. Farworse was yet to come. In 1909, a gang of rogue army
officers launched arson attacks on the offices of two Catalan language publications in Barcelona, not long after an article
in an army newspaper declared: ‘Catalonia must be Castilianised...people there must talk Spanish, think in Spanish and
behavelike Spaniards, whether they wish to or not.’
Talk of the military brings us to Spain’s two 20th century fascist dictatorships. We have already mentioned the linguistic
bullying ofPrimo de Rivera’s seven year regime, in which he also banned the Catalan flag and the sardana national dance.
Franco, however – whose troops entered Barcelona in 1939 - turned out to be the absolute limit. Even the Catalans who
went over to his side while the war was on had a rough time of it: a Catalan fascist was fined in 1938, for speaking in
Catalan on a hotel phone in Seville.
Once Franco and his comrades had hacked their way into Catalonia they installed what might be called a regime of
linguistic and cultural terror – as well as terror of the more usual kind – designed to eliminate every last trace of the
Catalan cultural universe. All Catalan institutions were abolished – again - along the Bourbon dynasty’s 1714 pattern. The
democratically elected Catalan president, Lluís Companys, exiled in Paris, was handed over by the Nazi occupation forces
to Franco in 1940, and shot. The home of the most famous Catalan philologist, Pompeu Fabra, was ransacked and his
library bonfired in the street. Every single one of the thousands of civil organisations of allkinds that had flourished under
the Republic, from neighbourhood basketballteams to the Catalan Blind People’s Association, was obliged to Castilianise
its name, its statutes, its membership cards and its meetings. Catalan was forbidden in all publishing, all media and all
public places. In 1955, the Spanish embassy in London even managed to convince the BBC, with strong support from
the prestigious anti-Franco republican exile Salvador de Madariaga, tosuppress its fortnightly short wave broadcasts in
This was not, as has sometimes been claimed, a situation that lasted merely during the first, most violent half-decade
of Franco’s regime, but went on right up until he was gasping his last. In 1960, when a group of moderate Catholic
Catalanists interrupted a concert by singing a patriotic song in Barcelona’s Palau de la Música, the following documented
comments were made to them by the police when they were beating them up in the station cells: ‘what Hitler did to the
Jews was nothing compared to what we’ll do with the Catalans’; ‘within a year you’ll be our slaves, you’ll be licking our
boots’; ‘you Catalans are lower than shit’. Hey, and these were moderate, Christian Catalanists they were slagging off.
Detainees who insisted on speaking in Catalan before the judges, such as the philologist Jordi Carbonell, were placed in
psychiatric institutions. Women belonging to the clandestine Catalan Republican Left party, whose members denied they
were Spanish, were frequently raped in custody, as two of the victims once explained to a mutual friend.
From that whole period, however, nothing drove home to me personally just how savage the anti-Catalan climate under
Franco was until I heard a true story told me by a man I was buying a table from, some ten years ago, in the Sant Antoni
neighbourhood of Barcelona. In 1966, when he was eight years old and still living in his village, his parents sent him to
the local Council offices to pick up a form they needed. When he stepped into the lobby he said, without thinking, ‘bon
dia’ in Catalan instead of ‘buenos días’ inSpanish. The man behind the desk stood up, came out, and without a word of
warning slapped this child so hard he fell on his arse. Anyone English who can imagine being slapped about by a public
functionary for saying ‘good morning’ in, say, Bootle or Beccles, will have an idea of what it was like to be a Catalan
speaker in Catalonia for a fair chunk of the late twentieth century.
With the advent of democracy, far from winning widespread sympathy from Spanish public opinion for having nearly had
their culture surgically removed, a survey commissioned by the then Spanish president Adolfo Suárez in 1977, showed
that Catalonia was the least liked region of Spain in Madrid, the two Castiles, Andalusia, Galicia, Extremadura, Asturias,
Murcia, Aragon and the Canary Islands. Only in Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Navarre and the Basque Country were the
Catalans not pushed to the bottom of the list.
Since then, antipathy towards Catalonia has proven so deep-rooted in monolingual Spain that Catalan historian Josep
Maria Solé i Sabaté was moved to say in a recent interview, and I quote his exact words: ‘In the same way that in Austria,
before the Second World War, you could not befully Austrian without being a little bit anti-Semitic, so in Spain today, you
cannot be one hundred Spanish unless you are at least a little bit anti-Catalan’.
We have seen at the beginning how anti-Catalan prejudice, fomented openly in certain Spanish media and by certain
Spanish politicians, has resulted in harassment, verbal abuse, and so forth. On occasion, it takes a far more serious form,
no better example of which can be given than extraordinary and mind-boggling case of Èric Bertran.
In 2004, Èric Bertran was a 14 year old schoolboy who lived in the Costa Brava resort town of Lloret de Mar. Èric, a Harry
Potter fan, had a web page called ‘L’Exèrcit del Fènix’, - the ‘Army of the Phoenix’ - named after the J.K. Rowlings’s Order
of the Phoenix. On the 24th September, Èricsent an email to two supermarket chains and a dairy products manufacturer,
requesting them to include Catalan on the labels of their products and suggesting that his Phoenix organisation would
make things difficult for them in the future if they didn’t. What he meant by this, as he explained in a later email to an
enquirer, was that he and the three other teenagers who made up the Exèrcit del Fènix would bombard the Customer
Service addresses of these companies with repeated emails.
On September 30th, just before 11pm, twenty Civil Guards in full combat uniform, automatic weapons at the ready, broke
into Èric’s home, searched his room and removed his and his brother’s computers. They identified themselves as members
of the anti-terrorist unit who had been sent from Madrid that same day. It turned out that one of the supermarket chains
Èric had emailed, had reported him to the police in the belief that the Army of the Phoenix was an organisation of urban
guerrillas, a suspicion apparently shared by the Civil Guard’s intelligence division. A fortnight later, during whichtime
Èric went through several panic attacks and had to be put on medication, he was summoned to Madrid to declare before
a public prosecutor. On December 15th, in an almost incredible scene, the public prosecutor – who let slip during the
hearing that she hadn’t read the original email that had caused all the trouble – declared Èric mentally unstable for having
photographs of burning Spanish flags on his website (the next day he was obliged to see a court psychologist) and then,
after arguing with him about his national identity for some time, screamed at him: ‘Say that you’re Spanish or I’ll lock you
One year later, in March of 2005, the supermarket chain dropped its accusations against Èric Bertran, after having had
its server blocked for months by furious Catalan e-protestors.
The point of all this is that such an episode would have been inconceivable in any other part of Spain except Catalonia,
with the very possible exception of the Basque Country. A 14 year old boy from Cantabria or the Canaries, for example,
who sent a grousy email to a company to persuade it to label its products in Castilian would not, in all probability, have
received a visit from an antiterrorist unit based in Madrid.
So where do we stand now, we residents of Catalonia today? Well, a boycott on all Catalan products which began in
2006 - around the time of the Statute of Autonomy negotiations - is still being adhered to by an important minority in
monolingual Spain (in Madrid, 21% of citizens recently confirmed they were still not buying Catalan). The public deficit of
20,000 million Euros a year, combined with the influx of one million two hundred thousand new citizens in the last ten
years, on top of an original population of 6 million, has put an increasingly noticeable pressure on hospitals and schools.
Mediacampaigns generated from outside Catalonia calling the Catalans linguistic bullies and destroyers of the Spanish
language in Catalonia continue to be shouted into our tired old ears, despite an official European Union investigation in
September of this year, which ruled that not only was Castilian not persecuted in Catalonia, but recommended that the
Catalan language immersion system used in its public – meaning state - schools be adopted by other bilingual communities
Put bluntly, the Catalans are tiring of a tiring situation that has gone on for far, far too long. Of the six million odd citizens
who have the vote, over two million now want outright independence, with a further two million remaining undecided.
Even us foreigners, voteless though we are, have been canvassed. A majority of Latin Americans, it turns out, would
prefer to stay in Spain, whereas the Eastern Europeans, for example, are largely in favour of secession. As is at least one
long-term English resident. Especially since less than 40% of the Spanish population would favour an armed intervention
should Catalonia and the Basque Country raise their hands to wave goodbye.
Before anyone can say, hey, what’s it to you, with your British passport and your universal English language, why you
should you care about this kerfuffle in a little coastal corner of the continent?, I would like to finish by saying that my own
interest in the issue is more personal than political, given that one of the areas in which anti-Catalan prejudice is most
virulent is in theworld of writing. Take this book, for example. ‘L’últim patriarca’ by Najat El Hachmi. Najat El Hachmi
came to live in Catalonia from her native Morocco at the age of eight. Twenty years later, with this novel, she won the most
prestigious and also best-remunerated Catalan-language literary award, the Ramon Llull, in January of this year. Despite
this unique achievement, when the Spanish translation was being prepared, Najat received tremendous pressure,even
from her own agent, to eliminate the words ‘traducido del catalán’ from the title page, as this would seriously prejudice
sales in monolingual Spain.
It is, indeed, an open secret in the literary world, that monolingual Spanish readers tend to shun the products of Catalan
language writers. One of the most commercially successful of these, Ferran Torrent, from Valencia, was once offered a
juicy contract for the Castilian version of one of his books, but the publisher put just one condition, just one. That Ferran
Torrent’s forename should be changed to Fernando so that people would assume that he was a monolingual Spaniard.
I never realised just how much this was the case, until something similar happened to me. Here we have the Catalan
original of a novel published in 2001, ‘Privilegiat’. The biographical blurb is standard: Taught himself Catalan in 1979,
published this, that and the other (Catalan titlesgiven), contributed stories to these anthologies, bla bla bla, contributes to
this and that newspaper and this and that radio station (their names given,identifying them as Catalan language media).
OK. This is the Castilian version: born in London, writer, contributor to newspapers and radios. He has lived in Barcelona
since 1984. Not a single mention of the fact that I had at the time published three books in Catalan, contributed stories to
five others, and worked for the Catalan media. Nothing. No mention of the dreaded C-word.
And that is precisely where the problem lies at heart. Just to live in and form no matter how modest a part of the Catalan
cultural universe, is in itself seen as indifferent or undesirable or politically incorrect or downright distasteful or even
bloody horrible in monolingual Spain. Yet at the same time, in Catalonia we are bombarded withreminders, some of them
laced with slights, that we form part of Spain and should therefore behave in a more Spanish way than we do. I put it to
you that this is an untenable situation, which sooner or later will have the kind ofconsequences that will make headlines
around the world – at least for a day – given that they will involve a new place being laid at the table of the United Nations.
What I’m sure everybody wants – and I include the vast majority of the inhabitants of monolingual Spain – is that in the
photographs accompanying the banner print, there will be no violent scenes, no rumblingtanks, no cadavers on the streets
Photo: Matthew Tree (Núvol)
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
The Role of Immigrants
What role will immigrants play in a future Catalan state? A
welcoming territory par excellence, we are facing a unique
scenario, as this is the only example in Europe of a nation
and state-building process that is happening simultaneously
with migration. This historical distinction allows Catalonia
to use the structure of opportunities it already has to better
integrate immigrants and better accommodate their diversity
of languages, cultural practices and religions. Catalonia will be
the only European nation that is designing the blueprint of its
own state with its immigrants. In this particular area, therefore,
Catalonia can bring innovation to an EU that, at the outset,
tends to see others based on exclusionary criteria, and is built
on a protective logic of states from the 19th and 20th centuries,
which interprets diversity as an unanticipated abnormality in
the course of history.
In a Catalan state, common public culture, which has already started to take shape, is the foundation of a
dynamic concept of political community that has four main pillars 1) the Catalan language, 2) democratic
values of co-existence within diversity based on the fair and equal treatment of the population, 3) respect
of human rights regardless of one’s origin or legal status, 4) the commitment to explore the advantages of
diversity on a deeper level, providing spaces for interaction that project the image of a cohesive society and a
“civic culture of diversity.”
As a public communicative force, Catalan remains the principal differentiating symbol of a multilingual people
that ensures the social and economic development of Catalonia. At the same time, cosmopolitanism is the
foundation of the identity of this project and it plays a very positive role in the fields of international trade and
diplomatic relations as well as the exchange of knowledge and science.
In this context –of the forming of a state within a context of increasing human mobility– immigration policy is
one of the most visible tools for managing national sovereignty for a new Catalan state within Europe.
Although it is true that immigration policies are comprehensive –as they cover almost all areas of everyday
life, all public sectors without exception and all phases of a person’s incorporation into a territory–, it is also
true that they have certain inherent qualities that are directly related to the management of the borders of this
national community, since these policies stipulate who can enter, how many people can stay with territorial
boundaries and the criteria adopted in terms of national belonging. Thus, the key element of a new Catalan
state would be to have a clearly defined border theory, and this definition should be based on a conception of
national community that distinguishes it from (and unites it with) other European states. This also includes the
coding of individual rights and duties, such as the right to vote and the criteria for access to Catalan citizenship.
In all of these cases, immigration policies are about national identity.
Having its own state will also require Catalonia to strengthen a particular type of action that it has not had
the opportunity to practice. We are referring to the crucial task of diplomatic action with the EU, asserting
Catalonia’s positioning throughout the complex process seeking a minimal harmonization of national legislation
and policies. We are also referring to Catalonia’s entry as a global player in bilateral negotiations with countries
of origin, which means a link between trade, work and immigration, and a visa policy as a means to regulate
In its current context of dependency within the Spanish state, Catalonia has already exhausted all resources
for designing its own path. The immigration philosophy that has been followed up until today is characterized
by its pragmatic nature, a political logic that seeks to avoid conflicts, and just as important, its ability to
close the gap between immigration management and Catalonia’s national project. It was remarkable to see
the incorporation of the Catalan Way from the 2001-04 Program and its renovation with the Statute, the
National Pact for Immigration and the llei d’acollida (Law on Reception, or welcome law), and it is important
to recall that, from the beginning, this action supposed a strengthening of the connection between immigration
policies and linguistic policies. We believe that this focus has been possible thanks to the responsible attitude
of all political leaders and of civil society in general, and we believe that it should be further strengthened
though discourse and actions, especially in a context of an economic crisis, uncertain institutional responses
and a democratic national transition process. Without a doubt, immigration policy will be part of the initial
foundation of the future Catalan state.
First published in Diari ARA.
Photo: Ricard Zapata-Barrero (Diari ARA)
Translation: Margaret Luppino
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
Together, we will build a new country
“Together, we will build a new country” is a video posted on
Súmate Association’s website.
This video shows the opinion of Catalan newcomers on
behalf of the process of independence.
You can watch the video here:
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
Dependency of the past
The ‘ceremony of confusion’ spread by central
government surrounding their investments continues
to grow, while investment in Catalonia continues to
fall: by 2014, 9.6% of the total which can be regionally
allocated (while Catalonia’s population represents 16%
and its GDP 19%). Although popular with Madridbased media, the confusion surrounding the figures has
not caused much of a stir in Catalonia. It is normal, we
are used to Fomento [Spain’s Ministry of Public Works
and Transport] inflating investment data by treating
investments undertaken in other regions that ‘affect
Catalonia’, as if they were ‘undertaken in Catalonia’.
This is done by grouping them under the heading ‘the
Mediterranean Corridor’. This in turn explains why
the Minister refers to figures that no one else is aware of. Or maybe they are. Perhaps she is referring to
the €216.2M which Fomento classifies as relating to the high speed train line Tarragona-Valencia-AlicanteMurcia, for example, (http://www.fomento.es/NR/rdonlyres/54A9DC67-7997-424C-9E9C-5F3673C227F5/
120754/130930Proyectodepresupuesto2014.pdf, p.11), which in fact is an extension of the Madrid-Levante
high speed line. Incidentally, the high speed link to the north of Castellon is non-existent, and it is expected to
remain that way.
The finance minister is also somewhat confused, as he claimed in last Sunday’s interview for this very newspaper,
that figures from Barcelona’s Chamber of Commerce do not include certain items that are included in the
information Fomento uses to form the basis of its calculations. However, the most surprising of the Minister’s
declarations concerning investment is that in his opinion, ‘the Chamber’s economic vision is the past’. He
appears to label as ‘archaic’ projects such as the (frozen) rail link to Barcelona’s Terminal 1 or investments
in urban rail networks. Nevertheless, the Minister apparently considers as more ‘modern’ extensions to high
speed lines which have very low density use and which consume 70% of rail investment and over 30% of the
Fomento group’s total investments. Quite a vision for the future: ignore the contribution of productivity in
investment priorities and keep amassing debt which generates zero economic returns with which it can be
Fomento’s investment policy has been summed up by the Catalan government’s industry minister: ‘The
Spanish government is trapped by bad decisions made in the past. They have very little room for manoeuvre.
The nouveau riche decisions made in the past regarding the high speed rail line weigh heavy on them’ (8aldia,
2 October). It is an admirable example of empathy towards the Minister, since it may have been impolite to
suggest that certain megaprojects could be suspended when money is tight. This is precisely what the Catalan
government (CiU) did in 2011, with the number 9 underground line. Can one imagine the Catalan Education
Minister Rigau acknowledging how restrictions and tendencies from the past dictate Minister Wert’s linguistic
policies? Or Minister Mas-Colell sympathising that the widespread view that Catalonia is well financed leaves
Minister Montoro with little room to focus on an alternate funding regime for the Generalitat? Perhaps we
ought to be more understanding; maybe they are simply moderates who are the victims of certain limitations
and bad decisions made in the past.
First published in La Vanguardia (October 8, 2013)
Photo: Germà Bel (Diari ARA)
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
Elites Fall Foul of the Offside Rule
Central government’s spending plans for 2014, which
drastically cut investment in Catalonia, have caught
Barcelona’s business elites in an offside trap precisely
at a time when these sectors were calling for a gesture
from the Spanish government towards Catalan society.
In a highly informative article in the Business pages on
the 2nd of this month, Manel Pérez reported that our
economic leaders have greeted the figures released by
the Finance Minister with ‘a degree of bewilderment and
a feeling of contempt’. On the 1st October, a palpable
feeling of disappointment was apparent in Barcelona’s
most important boardrooms. The interview with Montoro
published in last Sunday’s La Vanguardia did little to
calm the nerves of the aforementioned local elites. On the
contrary. Montoro, the man responsible for the national
budget, systematically refutes the evidence and ends with a cynical note that, I suspect, will be remembered
in the future: ‘Ultimately, it’s not a matter of being blinded by the figures, it depends on the plans that are on
the table’. Incredible. If you are the minister of finance and the figures suggest a reality that contradicts your
point of view, you simply have to forget the data and spout your propaganda as if reality were but an irrelevant
Here’s the rub: What does Montoro mean when he says, ‘There are plans on the table’? We know that the
PP’s plan is to recentralize Spain and drain the autonomous regions, while strengthening Madrid’s role as the
business and financial core. This is to be done to the detriment of the Catalan elites, regardless of the fact that
they operate part of their business outside of Catalonia and have never shown themselves to be obsessed with
their identity. We mustn’t forget that the epicenter is to be found on Bernabeu Stadium’s crowded VIP box.
Perhaps that is why the minister himself dares to say that Barcelona’s Chamber of Commerce has an economic
vision which is ‘from the past’. It is clear, therefore, that Mariano Rajoy’s government believes that the notion
that Catalonia receives its due in proportion to what it contributes to the state’s coffers is outdated and obsolete.
Let’s be perfectly clear about this, there is no other plan for Spain. As was explained by Professor Ferran
Requejo, the Granada document agreed to by the PSOE can neither be considered federal nor plurinational. In
other words: as Alicia Sanchez-Camacho recently found out, the only other way for Catalonia to stay in Spain
has proved a dead end.
The Catalan business world’s official response to the budget has been clear but extremely moderate, as was
to be expected. The article co-written for La Vanguardia by Joaquim Gay de Montellà and Miquel Valls on
this issue is an example of what would be the spirit of ‘the Third Way’, if such a path existed: patiently asking
Madrid to ‘reconsider’ a political commitment that is not accidental and which, according to Minister MasColell, is in no way a retaliation for the CiU government’s pro-sovereignty stance. Is there anyone who will
actually finally listen to the educated arguments of our officials? The calls for sovereignty continue to grow, but
it does little to encourage the brains in the Moncloa to alter the script they wrote some time ago.
What will our elites do from now on? Rajoy’s harmful budgets and Montoro’s evident disdain indicate that
the supposed influence of these sectors on policy decisions in Madrid is now limited, if not non-existent. This
is a serious matter and poses many questions, both inside and outside Catalonia. If our elites are unable to
effectively influence the center of state power, what authority will they have over the middle and working class
in Catalonia in the short and long term? The same could be said of those politicians who have based their
reputation on the Madrid-Barcelona shuttle. The Catalonia of the autonomies is going astray, it has come
undone. Those business leaders who have ridiculed Artur Mas for wishing to build a Catalan state instead
of being the Spanish state’s docile, misunderstood reformer, must now rethink their opinions in the light of
Rajoy’s budget and other decisions. The more active sectors of the middle classes, more aware of economic and
linguistic grievances and recognition for Catalonia, have been steadily disengaging themselves from the classic
objective of reforming Spain, in particular since the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Statute. The priority
of this majority is to achieve a new distribution of power which guarantees more just treatment (whether
political, fiscal or cultural). Nowadays, such a concept can only relate to one concept: independence.
Meanwhile, as usual, the priority of the Catalan elites is political and social stability, as is the case the world
over. Problems appear when stability is accompanied by unfair treatment for society as a whole. Order or
freedom? Those at the top look down on those below and wonder how the problem can be solved. A fiscal
agreement? A Third Way? Federalism? The Catalan bourgeoisie fail to understand how the PP can happily
leave the situation to fester. Those at the top look down on those at the bottom again (the ones wearing yellow
T-shirts [protesting cuts in education]) and think that, in spite of having everything stacked against them, they
might just win. It is for this reason that Oriol Junqueras, who some couldn’t even bear to see, has finally been
officially welcomed in one of the most important boardrooms in the city. Just in case.
First published in La Vanguardia
Photo: Francesc-Marc Álvaro (El Singular Digital)
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
The Spanish Government’s investment in Catalonia to drop
by 25% in 2014
Catalan News Agency 20-09-2013
On Monday the Spanish Government presented its budget proposal
for 2014. As every single year, it will only invest in Catalonia a much
inferior budget share than Catalonia’s weight within Spain in GDP
or population terms. In 2014, the Spanish Government is planning
to spend just 9.6% of its total regional investment in Catalonia, far
short of the Catalan GDP (18.9% of Spain’s total) and population
(15.7%). In addition, compared to the budget forecast for 2013, the
€944.42 million planned for 2014 represents a 25% annual drop,
while investment throughout Spain will only be reduced by 7.2%.
The Spanish Government’s budget proposal for 2014 only allocates to Catalonia €944.42 million of direct
spending. This represents a 25% drop from €1,262.30 million in 2013, which then represented 11.9% of the
total regional spending. Then, the Spanish Government did not respect the legal obligation to spend in relative
terms at least Catalonia’s share of Spain’s GDP, a legal compensation for an historical lack of investment to be
implemented between 2007 and 2013. This means that in 2013 it should have spent 18.9% of its total spending
in Catalonia, but instead it invested 11.9%. In fact, the Spanish Government has never honoured this legal
obligation in these last seven years. On top of this, in 2014, the first without the legal obligation and in the
middle of the Catalan independence debate, Catalonia’s share of the Spanish Government’s investment is even
lower; and it is decreased way beyond the 7.2% average reduction.
The Spanish Finance Minister, Cristóbal Montoro, stated that this is “the recovery budget” and “establishing
the bases of rigour, austerity and commitment to the reduction of public deficit”. Answering questions about
the low investment share in Catalonia, Montoro downplayed it by saying “now it is not the time” to talk about
territorial investment but “to talk about growth and employment creation”. However, he emphasised that
Catalonia will “receive investment for its priority projects” to become “one of the main engines for the economic
recovery” in Spain. In addition, he pointed out that the Catalan Government is receiving financial assistance
from the Spanish Government, which acts as its only bank since the Spanish Government is blocking the
Autonomous Communities’ access to international financial markets in order to get liquidity.
Catalonia’s is Spain’s wealthiest area, representing 18.9% of the country’s GDP and having an economy larger
than Portugal’s. In addition, it is the second most populated area, containing 15.7% of Spain’s total population.
However, in 2014 it will only receive 9.6% of regional investment, despite the Spanish Government’s public
statement that the area has to become “one of the main engines for the economic recovery” in Spain. With a
planned investment of €944.42 million, Catalonia ranks below Andalusia (€1,697.74 million and 17.3% of the
total), Castilla y León (€1,399.47 million and 14.3% of the total) and Galicia (€1.353.82 million and 13.8% of
the total). The Spanish Government’s total territorial investment accounts for €9,786.95 million. Catalonia is
followed by Madrid (€909.08 million and 9.3% of the total) and the Valencian Country (€605.80 million and
Of the €944 million to be invested in Catalonia, €894.23 million will be allocated by the Ministries of Transport
and Agriculture. The remaining €50.19 million will be invested by the remaining Spanish Ministries.
First published in Catalan News Agency.
Photo: The Spanish Government handing in the 2014 budget proposal to the Spanish
Parliament. (Catalan News Agency)
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
An interconnected world
Víctor Terradellas - Catalan International View
The butterfly effect is a concept belonging to chaos
theory referring to a notion of time relating to the
initial conditions within a system. The idea is that,
given certain initial circumstances in said chaotic
system, the slightest variation in conditions can
cause the system to evolve in radically different
ways. Thus, a small initial disturbance can generate
a significantly greater effect in the medium or long
term, thanks to a process of amplification.
I mention this because the spring of 2013 was stained with blood following the collapse of a warehouse engaged
in textile manufacturing in Bangladesh. The tragic outcome was more than a thousand dead and many injured.
We at the CIV have always understood and defended the view, specifically in our editorials, that Europe’s
primary mission is to be a model of the promotion, awareness and recognition of basic democratic values. Such
values are inseparable from a total respect for human rights in the political, economic and social sense.
It is undeniable that the political tradition resulting from the colonial period led to double standards being
applied. Practices which were seen as unacceptable in a European nation were common in the colonies.
However, it is also true that we have evolved sufficiently since then to appreciate that the global village in
which we now live, in this the twenty-first century, precludes the practice abroad of An interconnected world
by Víctor Terradellas To Our Readers that which is seen as unacceptable at home.
For this reason, the deaths in Bangladesh are questioning us. Europe’s projection abroad, which is political, but
which is evidently commercial and economic, must be informed by and based on the values of justice, equality
and freedom that we wish to be identified with. Therefore, we need to realise that Europe’s quantitatively
minority position in the world can only become accepted qualitatively if we develop a unique, determined way
of being, behaving and interacting.
Europe and the big European companies have already lost the race for the lowest quote and the cheapest
prices. Instead, it is by exporting a particular concept of Europe, also in the commercial field, that we will stand
out and gain supporters and admirers of the European cause.
The brands and businesses involved in the events in Bangladesh, whether directly or indirectly, as well as other
European organizations with similar practices in Asia and elsewhere, would do well to understand that our
challenge is quality, excellence and the recognition of the rights and duties of everyone with whom we work.
With such a contribution we will truly be able to export Europe, and rather than finding ourselves at the centre
of the world we will find ourselves at the centre of global democracy. It is a position where we should remain.
First published in Catalan International View
Photo: Catalan International View
seven communities, one language
Thoughts about independence
issue #20 - october 2013
OUR CULTURE OUR HISTORY
Festivities in Catalonia which come from other cultures
Culturcat - Generalitat de Catalunya
Catalonia is a region which has welcomed many other cultures.
A good example of the integration of this is the celebration
of some of these foreign festivities throughout the year.
Over the preceding years religious festivities, like Ramadan
and orthodox Easter, have become consolidated, as well as
the celebration of Chinese and Jewish New Year and the
Oktoberfest, which is one of the most popular celebrations of
One of the celebrations that comes from other cultures, which
has in recent times become more visible in various areas of
Catalonia, is Eid ul-Fitr which marks the end of the month of
Ramadan, when the Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and follow a series of prayers in honour of the birth of
the Koran which, during this month, was revealed to the prophet Mohammad. During Eid ul-Fitr the Muslims
go to the mosque, wear new clothes, eat sweets and give each other small gifts.
The difference between the celebrations of the Orthodox Church’s celebration of Easter and that of the Roman
Catholic Church is also significant, which means that the orthodox community who reside in Catalonia celebrates
it annually on different days. The difference in dates is due to the Orthodox Church’s non-acceptation of the
Gregorian calendar. This year, Easter Sunday has been on the same day for both churches (April 4th), and next
year it will also be the same (April 24th), but in 2012 they become distanced again (the Roman Easter will be
on April 8th and that of the Orthodox on the 15th).
For many years, New Year has not only been held on the night of December 31st. The Chinese community
who reside in Catalonia celebrates it on the first day of their calendar – which this year was February 14th –.
In China it is traditional to throw fireworks, go to the parade of immense coloured dragons and give presents
wrapped in red paper. All of this taking place within a family setting. For the Jewish community, the arrival
of the New Year commemorates the creation of the world as it is narrated in the Old Testament. The habitual
practises include going to the synagogue to pray, listening to the sound of the ‘shofar’ and the holding of a
festive meal: apples with honey or ‘shalà’ (a special bread). The festivity of the Jewish New Year lasts two days.
Oktoberfest is one of the most typical celebrations of the Bavarian culture. It has been held since 1812 and
gathers Germans and tourists to 14 marquees which are erected on the outskirts of Munich during the last
fifteen days of September – until the first Sunday of October –. Oktoberfest is an essential meeting point
through which some six million Germans pass every year to celebrate the start of autumn in a multitudinous
way with dances, live music, traditional meals and lots of beer. The popularity of the celebration has meant that
it has expanded to such varied countries as Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Hong Kong and Australia. In Catalonia,
the celebrations of Oktoberfest take place in various coastal towns like Calella de Mar, Barcelona or Lloret de
Mar: its duration is variable – it usually falls on a weekend – and the assistants gather in marquees and follow
the ritual of music, dance, abundant meals and beer.
First published in Culturcat.
ISSN: 2014-9093 | Legal deposit: B. 2198-2013